Ideas Unbound – Legacy Dredge

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Friday, March 12th – If you are not playing Dredge in Legacy, you are doing it unbelievably wrong. The deck routinely deploys 9/9s on turn 2 or 3 and brings some number of 2/2s to the party for value. While doing this, you get to Cabal Therapy your opponent two or three times, and if for some reason that isn’t good enough, you also have unlimited 3/1s that leave Zombies behind when they die.

If you are not playing Dredge in Legacy, you are doing it unbelievably wrong.

The deck routinely deploys 9/9s on turn 2 or 3 and brings some number of 2/2s to the party for value. While doing this, you get to Cabal Therapy your opponent two or three times, and if for some reason that isn’t good enough, you also have unlimited 3/1s that leave Zombies behind when they die. There is very little your opponent can do about any of this. I have won multiple games, in tournaments, in which I never literally never played a land nor cast a spell.

Sure, your opponents will bring in hate after you beat them in game 1. Those hate cards almost never matter. In game 1, if you cast Tireless Tribe on turn 1, discard a card with dredge, and cast Breakthrough on turn 2, your opponent is completely kold to your Troll and a bunch of Zombies. In game 2, if you cast Tireless Tribe on turn 1 and they cast Tormod’s Crypt, then you discard an Ancient Grudge, blow up their Crypt, discard a card with dredge, and cast Breakthrough, your opponent is completely kold to your Troll and Zombies.

Very few of the hate cards are more than vaguely annoying, and if you just practice grinding out postboard games, matches get pretty easy. I have played Dredge in five Mox tournaments in the last few months. I have won three of them, with an overall record of 21-4 in played matches, plus a bunch of intentional draws. Most of my opponents boarded in upwards of six cards, and I just did not care.

Dredge has some bad matchups, sure. Beating Tendrils is basically impossible, and if your opponent survives long enough to cast some obscure lock component (Solitary Confinement, Glacial Chasm, whatever) it’s pretty hard to win until you board in Terastodon and give them a bunch of elephants. However, beating aggro decks is pretty easy, and beating Force of Will decks is even easier.

The maindeck is very close to what Richard Feldman played at GP Chicago last year, with some tweaks from Kevin Binswanger and myself. The sideboard has evolved a bit. Ancestor’s Chosen obviously destroys aggressive decks, but it also allows you to race Progenitus. Terastodon destroys any Glacial Chasms, Ghostly Prisons, or Solitary Confinements that are stopping your Zombies in their quest for brains. Flame-Kin Zealot is a nod to the mirror and other combo decks. Angel of Despair kills Blazing Archon. I switched from Pithing Needle to Ancient Grudge when people started running combinations of Tormod’s Crypt and Relic of Progenitus and was quite pleased with the results. Even if Grudge isn’t in your opening hand, you can still dredge into it in the face of a Relic or Crypt. Destroying opposing hate on your terms allows you to immediately pitch a couple of dredge cards and bury your opponent with card draw.

As for what isn’t in the sideboard: Every so often, someone floats the idea of sideboarding Force of Will to fight Ravenous Trap and Tormod’s Crypt. I understand that the deck almost has enough Blue cards to support Force, but you really don’t want to be pitching Breakthrough or Study to fuel it. Besides, Therapy and Grudge are actually better answers to hate than Force. Firestorm pretty sweet against Zoo and Merfolk, but it isn’t actually necessary against either deck and is hard to make room for. Particularly after Madrid, I feel Leyline is more important because of Reanimator and the mirror.

Also, before it comes up in the forums, yeah, sometimes I take twelve from Tarnished Citadel. I win most of those games, and it’s because I can actually cast my spells. Usually it only gets used once or twice; once for Tribe/Imp, and once for Study/Coliseum/Breakthrough to dredge half your deck and kill your opponent.

Most discussions of Dredge maindecks in Legacy revolve around whether or not to play Lion’s Eye Diamond, whether to play Bloodghast or Ichorid or both, whether or not to maindeck any Dread Return targets beyond Golgari Grave-Troll, and how many lands to play.

There are two schools of thought among Dredge players in Legacy concerning Lion’s Eye Diamond. One camp holds that Diamond allows you to be more explosive and get turn one kills by playing Diamond, land, Breakthrough while cracking Diamond in response, discarding some dredge cards and dredging them back to mill half their library, then using the Diamond mana to fuel Deep Analysis, milling the other half before flashing back Dread Return on Flame-Kin Zealot.

The other group just wants lands to cast their spells, Tireless Tribes to feed to Dread Return and more resilience for grinding out postboard games against hate cards. Indeed, most Diamond lists board Diamonds out against hate cards to bring in lands and Tireless Tribe. I think sideboarding Tribes is a tremendous waste of space and feel that my opponents will be just as dead if I kill them on turn 3 instead of turn 1, so I eschew Diamond.

As for Bloodghast, playing Bloodghast isn’t something you can do without making significant changes to the manabase. Bloodghast requires cutting Citadels for Undiscovered Paradise and the addition of one or two copies of Dakmor Salvage in order to landfall with any sort of consistency. Undiscovered Paradise makes playing around Daze very difficult, and makes activating Cephalid Coliseum on turn 2 impossible. Dakmor Salvage also doesn’t produce a useful color of mana, nor does it dredge for any appreciable amount. Even after you begin landfalling with Bloodghast, having 2/1s instead of 3/1s makes you look pretty silly when your opponent parks like a Kird Ape in front of your team. You also can’t sacrifice Bloodghasts without Therapy or Dread Return, meaning you can’t just build up a Zombie horde over the course of a few turns in the same way you can with Ichorids.

Sweet Dread Return targets like Iona, Shield of Emeria or Sadistic Hypnotist or Flame-Kin Zealot look flashy and cool, but don’t actually add any value beyond making sideboarding easier. Flame-Kin Zealot is in the board as a concession to combo decks, the mirror, and certain specific situations against The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. However, the easiest way for most decks to interact with Dredge involve using Engineered Explosives to destroy your Zombies or some sort of removal to destroy your Bridges. Flame-Kin Zealot exposes you to all of that for a very marginal upside. Cabal Therapy makes Sadistic Hypnotist redundant, and Iona is essentially a slower Zealot against combo decks; she is just unnecessary because you can Mind Twist the other guy with Therapy.

Most Dredge lists I see run four Coliseums and eight to ten other rainbow lands. Now, it’s true that Coliseum is technically a land, but in almost every game, you need a rainbow land to cast outlets and Cabal Therapy, so I have eleven of them. Beyond allowing you to actually cast your spells, the extra lands are also useful in the when you start casting Golgari Thug and Stinkweed Imp.

Playing game 1s with Dredge isn’t very hard. If your opponent is not Blue, mulligan until you have a land, a card with Dredge, and a discard outlet. Yard your dredger. If you have Coliseum, Breakthrough, or Study, use it to dredge a ton of cards in one turn. Use Ichorid and Narcomoeba to fuel Cabal Therapy and strip your opponent’s hand, netting Zombies with Bridge from Below in the process. When you have three creatures plus a Dread Return and Golgari Grave-Troll in your yard, flashback the Return for the Troll and kill your opponent with it. If you don’t have a way to draw cards, don’t stress; just block with Narcomoeba and Zombie tokens to buy time to set up your Dread Return.

Playing against Force of Will requires a different line. None of the Force of Will decks can really win if you start dredging, so they hope to steal games by countering all of your discard outlets. The easiest way to circumvent that is to draw up to eight cards and just pitch your Dredge cards to satisfy the hand size rule. In fact, I actively choose to draw against Blue decks. Not even Threshold or Merfolk can clock you fast enough to punish a slow start, particularly once you find Narcomoeba and Zombie-generating Ichorids to block with. Use Cabal Therapy over the course of a few turns to clear the permission out of their hand, and then sneak in a draw spell to bury them in one fell swoop.

In Legacy, the most common sideboard card against graveyards is Tormod’s Crypt. Leyline of the Void is generally dismissed in most nonblack decks. Because so many decks can see so many extra cards in the first two turns with Brainstorm, Ponder, and Sensei’s Divining Top, free hate like Crypt and Trap gain a lot of extra utility. In contrast, Leyline is dead until the midgame even if you see it while cantripping*. Ravenous Trap is in some ways better than Tormod’s Crypt against Dredge, but is significantly worse against the Loam decks, so it isn’t as widely played.

After boarding, your opponents will bring in all manner of hate cards. Most opponents have Tormod’s Crypts and/or Ravenous Trap. Occasionally, you see people with Leyline of the Void, Extirpate, or hate bears (Yixlid Jailer, Jotun Grunt). Some people have Relic of Progenitus instead of Tormod’s Crypt. Usually, your opponents will play their hate cards, then look at you with a sort of expectant half-smile silently asking if you want to concede.

A few people still think that if they just show you a Mogg Fanatic, they can wait to pop your Bridges and win that way. Those people tend to get run over by Ichorids and Golgari Grave-Trolls. Getting to three creatures without Bridge is pretty easy between Narcomoeba, Ichorid, Tribe, Imp, and Thug. If the other guy wants to spend a card and some mana to do something basically irrelevant, go ahead and let him.

Fighting Crypt and Relic isn’t particularly hard; if you have Grudge in your hand with an outlet, you can just Grudge their artifact before starting to dredge. If they have Relic on the draw, you might just be able to kill them on turn two. Nice activation cost. If you don’t have a Grudge, you can just dredge into one, flash it back, and go on about your business. Your opponent has to be able to remove your outlet in response to your destruction of the Crypt and you can’t have another one in your hand in order for Crypt to truly be effective.

Ravenous Trap is also easy. Cabal Therapy it away. If Therapy isn’t in your hand, you have to dredge into it. This allows them to Trap you, but if you still have an outlet, you can just keep dredging. The ideal line involves finding a Cabal Therapy and a creature, then not dredging during your draw step, flashing back Therapy on Trap, and then using Breakthrough/Coliseum/Study to bin your library after the coast is clear. Sometimes your opponents float a Trap with Top to avoid Therapy; just Grudge their Top before getting the Trap with Therapy.

Leyline of the Void requires you to show Chain of Vapor or you lose. Shrug. Yixlid Jailer is much the same way, but if your opponent Jails you in game two, you can go after them aggressively with Therapy in game 3 to strip Jailer (or Wheel of Sun and Moon). You can also just kill them on turn 2 instead.

Some decks try to set up Propaganda-type effects (Elephant Grass, Ghostly Prison) or lock the combat step with Glacial Chasm or Solitary Confinement. Most of those cards are vulnerable to Cabal Therapy, but even if they hit play, none of the decks running them have any sort of real clock. You have plenty of time to set up a turn where you flashback two Dread Returns, one for Terastodon to nuke their permanents and one for Flame-Kin Zealot to kill them before they re-establish their board.

Jotun Grunt and Extirpate have also made some appearances. If your opponent casts Grunt on turn 2, you can simply stop dredging and Grunt will run out of food very quickly. If your opponent waits to cast Grunt in the midgame, you can usually overwhelm them with a fully-stocked yard. Grunt is also vulnerable to Therapy if your opponent is on the draw. Extirpate is only good if your opponent draws multiples; if they get your Bridges, you can still set up Dread Return. If they get Dread Return, you can still get Zombies via Ichorid and Bridge. If they hit Ichorid, you still have Narcomoebas and Zombies to fuel Dread Return on Troll. If they hit your Dread Return target, you still have all these a bunch of Zombies.

I almost didn’t mention Meddling Mage or Gaddock Teeg because neither card is particularly effective against Dredge. Usually your opponents name Dread Return. If you need to flashback Dread Return badly, and you usually don’t against decks with Mage or Teeg, go find Darkblast and run the upkeep Darkblast, dredge it back, Darkblast line to kill their bear.

It’s also worth noting that all of the non-Leyline hate cards are only effective once you have begun dredging. If you have dredged once, it means you have a card with Dredge in your hand, and it’s likely you have a way to discard it either in play or in your hand. Accordingly, even if your opponent mauls your yard, it is very easy to restart your engine. They can’t really just Crypt the first Dredge card you discard, either, because they basically lose on the spot if you have a second.

Dredge wins basically every game one because its opponents are virtually unable to interact with it. Your opponents only really gain the ability to interact via their sideboard cards, and if they keep a seven card hand without a Crypt or whatever, it’s pretty likely that game 2 will just be a repeat of the game 1 bloodbath; they have to mulligan accordingly. As a corollary to this, your opponents basically have to keep any hand with a sideboard card. Once you defeat their sideboard cards, the rest of their hand is probably pretty mediocre.

Matchups and Sideboarding

In the dark, I expect most opponents to have artifact hate and some Traps, which means you want access to Grudge and Therapy. Decks that can produce Black mana tend to favor Leyline over artifacts, but also usually have Trap or Extirpate to supplement it, so I tend to bring in Chain rather than Grudge against them. Specific sideboarding guides are below, but broadly, you can generally shave a card with Dredge, a Dread Return, a Study, an Ichorid, and a Therapy if you aren’t really sure what to do. Breakthrough is tricky, because it provides the most explosive draws after you trump their hate or allows you to race, but it’s also totally dead if the other guy has a Crypt. I don’t usually board it out, but it’s been known to happen, particularly against Leyline.

Non-Blue aggro, e.g. Zoo, Goblins, Survival of the Fittest: They can’t Force you. Game 1 is super easy even without a draw spell. Narcomoeba and Zombies clog up the ground very quickly, and I’m pretty sure that Tireless Tribe is just mainlining energy drinks or something because that guy just does not get fatigued while fending off creatures and fueling your dredging. If they leave up a Mountain when you are preparing for a big turn, they might be able to remove your Bridges, but if you Therapy them for Path to Exile, your Troll will still be the biggest guy around.

I generally board +1 Ancestor’s Chosen +3 Ancient Grudge -1 Cabal Therapy -1 Darkblast -1 Careful Study -1 Ichorid. You can leave the Ichorid in and cut Dread Return if you are concerned about getting to three, but Ichorid doesn’t race well unless Bridge is active, and you’ll probably win any games where you can Ichorid twice with Bridges going anyway, and Dread Return on Chosen is lights out for Zoo. If you are positive your opponent has no Traps, you can cut a second Therapy instead. I rarely cut below two Therapies because they allow you to get up to three creatures if you have something like Narcomoeba, Imp, Bridge, Bridge, Therapy.

Bojuka Bog is pretty loose, but if your opponent tutors it up in the middle of a big turn with Knight of the Reliquary you are probably stone dead, so be aware of potential shenanigans. Also, recognize that you can just cast Golgari Thug if you need a third man to Dread Return or even if you just need to block. His ability is also pretty sweet; reloading Narcomoeba is awesome in grinding midgames.

Daze Aggro decks, e.g. Merfolk and Threshold: Between Daze, Force of Will, and Wasteland, it can be pretty hard to resolve an outlet against these decks. The goal is to discard a Dredge card to hand size and start grinding away. That can be hard against Merfolk because of their Lords, particularly Reejerey and Sovereign, but it’s still pretty doable. I generally try to use Narcomoeba to block and feed Ichorids to Therapy to clear out their counterspells before powering through a draw spell. Avoid exposing lands to Wasteland unless you are playing a spell that turn or want to play around Daze on your next turn.

I board in +1 Ancestor’s Chosen +3 Ancient Grudge for -3 Careful Study -1 Darkblast. I assume that I am only going to draw one or two lands and that both of them will eat Wasteland at some point, so I want the spells I cast to be as high-impact as possible. Study isn’t necessary as an outlet because you are abusing the hand size rule, and it’s the least powerful draw spell. Tribe is a sick blocker, and Imp is a flying Isamaru that feeds Ichorid. I cut a Thug instead of a Darkblast against Merfolk because it’s handy to kill Cursecatcher on your terms rather than theirs. You can also occasionally get one of their lords by Darkblasting it on upkeep, dredging it back, and Darkblasting it again. Again, you want to grind out the games by building up Zombies and using Cabal Therapy to clear out their hand before powering through them with Coliseum or Breakthrough.

Counterbalance: Counterbalance is even easier than the Daze decks because they can’t attack your mana. Discarding and dredging against them blanks all of their permission, and really all you need to do is Therapy away Natural Order or ensure that you can race Progenitus with Golgari Grave-Troll. Even if they Counterbalance you to blank Therapy, they can’t remove your Bridges, so you can just Zombie them out with Ichorids.

+1 Ancestor’s Chosen +3 Ancient Grudge -1 Darkblast -3 Careful Study. Ancestor’s Chosen has to come in to allow you to race Progenitus if the worst case scenario happens. Bring in the Grudges to battle any Crypts they may have. Sideboarding is sort of awkward. Because you need to Therapy for Trap but also for Order, you want access to all of the Therapies. You want all the Ichorids going long, and if Natural Order happens, you will probably need to Dread Return twice, which means you can’t cut any of them, either. I tend to board out Careful Study, but there are reasonable arguments for cutting Tireless Tribe. You want Study to dig for Chosen, but you want Tribe to block Tarmogoyf and provide a permanent outlet once you begin casting spells. I prefer Tribe because it’s better when your opponent has a Crypt.

Loam decks, e.g. Aggro-Loam, Lands: Loam is pretty easy unless they set up Glacial Chasm, which is unbeatable in game one. The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale can be frustrating in conjunction with Wasteland, but Ichorids are a solid plan against Tabernacle.

They board in Leyline, so you need access to the Chains and Ray. Against Lands, you also need Terastodon and Flame-Kin Zealot to ensure that you can blow up Chasm and have lethal damage in the same turn, else they will Loam back Chasm and you will be frustrated. Fortunately, Lands doesn’t have much of a clock, so you can wait to sculpt your big turn. Aggro-Loam can go after you with Crushers, but you don’t need the Dread Return targets against them, either.

Against Lands, you board +4 Chain of Vapor +1 Ray of Revelation +1 Terastodon +1 Flame-Kin Zealot for -4 Cabal Therapy -1 Darkblast -2 Tireless Tribe. Cutting Tribes seems weird, but they are a Wasteland deck with Loam; you will probably play a land, Chain their Leyline and lose your land to Wasteland. You will probably need to resolve Breakthrough or Study to dig for all of your pieces, so you need to reserve a land for that purpose as well. Only if you have a third land can you afford to cast an outlet; otherwise you will have to use the hand size rule. Ray comes in despite costing two because it is worth the chance to destroy Leyline on turn 2 if your opponent doesn’t have Wasteland in their opener. If you expect your opponent to have over three problem permanents, leave in a Therapy to reload Terastodon.

Against Aggro-Loam, you don’t need to sculpt double Dread Return, so you sideboard differently. You still bring in +4 Chain +1 Ray, but you cut -1 Darkblast -1 Dread Return -1 Ichorid and -2 Therapy. Therapy is more useful against Loam for splitting creatures for Dread Return purposes as well as just getting their Countryside Crusher.

You don’t really want to Leyline either deck, because they can operate without their yard and you cannot. It is much more important to be able to answer their Leyline, and you can’t dilute your core any further.

You can’t really beat any of the Tendrils decks. They have Duress for your card drawing and can buy an extra turn with Orim’s Chant. They are also a turn faster than you are even if you have Flame-Kin Zealot main. Boarding Unmask or Mindbreak Trap is an option, but even so, you need your opening hand to be Trap, outlet, land, draw spell and not get Duressed or Chanted. +1 Flame-Kin Zealot +1 Terastodon -2 Ichorid. If you manage to Dread Return and don’t have Zealot, blowing up all of their lands might buy you a necessary turn.

The mirror is pretty degenerate and heavily favors whoever wins the die roll. The person on the draw is essentially obligated to mulligan to land, outlet, dredge card, draw spell and hope to not get Cabal Therapied. In come +3 Leyline of the Void +4 Chain of Vapor +1 Flame-Kin Zealot -4 Cabal Therapy -3 Ichorid -1 Dread Return.

Reanimator caused a lot of buzz by winning in Grand Prix Madrid. The matchup is pretty swingy; you can’t just abuse the hand size rule against them because they can get you with Archon or Iona on turn two, but you can also just tear them apart with Cabal Therapy if you get a chance to get going. Even if they Force you, they usually have to pitch something like Brainstorm or Study, so you can keep trying to pummel them while they are digging. (Getting Dazed, on the other hand, is a huge beating.) In game one, Iona is beatable with Ichorids while chumping with Narcomoeba, but Blazing Archon is not.

Sideboarding is +3 Leyline of the Void +1 Angel of Despair -1 Dread Return -1 Darkblast -1 Cabal Therapy -1 Careful Study. Flame-Kin Zealot is explicitly left on the bench because of Echoing Truth. Muller’s list is the stock list for the near future, and he didn’t have any yard hate. I would expect people to evolve to Coffin Purge fairly quickly for the mirror, but I’m not sure if they will go to Leyline or not. Trap and Crypt are trumped by Exhume into Entomb, so you needn’t be worried about them. I’m not sure how I would board if I needed to bring in Leylines, Angel and Chains, and will probably cross that bridge when I come to it.

I am actually completely mystified why Dredge hasn’t been annihilating all of the StarCityGames.com Legacy Opens, not to mention Madrid. Whenever I play a match with it, I feel like my opponent has to nut draw me and my draw has to be bad in order for them to win, twice. It feels like a cop out to say “Everyone else has the wrong list,” but, well, I think the lists that have pushed some folks into the Top 16 of the Opens are pretty loose. People don’t have enough lands, have maindeck Dread Return targets, have miserable sideboards, and so on. I also feel like their sideboards don’t allow them the proper tools to battle hate cards, which might be another reason the deck isn’t dominating. I want to emphasize that I don’t think the presence of hate is what is keeping Dredge down; I routinely beat people who board in six cards.

I cannot recommend Dredge highly enough for Indianapolis. As a general rule, people can’t really interact with Dredge. It has an extremely fast goldfish, dominates combat with Tribes, Zombies, Trolls, and Ichorids, and has Therapy to disrupt whatever plan the opponent is on. You can abuse the hand size rule to get around permission. The only way your opponents can meaningfully interact with you is via a certain subset of sideboard cards, and if you figure out how to trump their hate, you will crush them.

Max McCall
max dot mccall at gmail dot com

*Incidentally, the way to dig furthest for a sideboard card is to mulligan, not Ponder.